Can You Repeat the Question, Please?

tincanphone

Marriage has taught me some valuable lessons about the opposite sex. Men eat a lot more than women. They use a lot less toilet paper. They don’t really care whether you’re wearing makeup. But I think the most important thing that Ethan and I are both learning is that men and women have completely different communication styles.

The classic example of this is the “vent”. Sometimes, women just need to talk. We don’t really need a solution to the problem – we probably already know the solution – we just want you to validate the complaint before we solve it. We might not even want a solution at all. To a man, this is crazy talk. Give him a problem, he finds a solution, and you get mad at him for defusing the rant.

Possibly the most marked difference in communication, however, is the way we ask questions. For example:

A man asks, “Honey, do we have any light bulbs?”
Here’s what he means: “I wonder if we have any light bulbs.”

A woman asks, “Honey, do we have any light bulbs?”
Here’s what she means: “Have you noticed the hall light is out? I was hoping you would fix that light bulb sometime today, but you’re going to need some light bulbs to do it, so if we don’t have any, we’ll need to get to the store before we leave for that party tonight, so you can change the light before it gets dark outside. I don’t want to come home to a pitch-black hallway. And I definitely don’t want to wait until tomorrow. I’m not tall enough to reach the light, so I’d really rather you do it. Will you go get the light bulbs and fix the hall light right now, please?”

See what I mean? This kind of thing leaves men thoroughly perplexed. My husband’s perspective: you can’t expect me to think of everything you might possibly mean when you ask me a question! So please just ask the question that you really mean.

But here’s where it gets a little sticky. I’m a woman. I’m used to speaking with other women. That means I’m used to speaking with other women who also use this cryptic mumbo-jumbo. This is perfectly valid conversation in my brain. To illustrate, here’s how this would go down amongst women:

Agatha: Do we have any light bulbs?
Jill: I’m not sure. We used to have some in the hall closet, but I might have used the last one when the porch light burned out. Why? Is one of our lights out?
Agatha: Yeah, the hall light’s gone out.
Jill: Oh, no! Let me check the hall closet. … It looks like we’ve still got a light bulb left. Do you want me to change it for you? You’re kind of short, no offense.
Agatha: Thanks. It’s been bugging me all day, but I didn’t want to stand on a rickety chair and try to change it myself.

Now, here’s how that same encounter would go down between a man and a woman:

 Agatha: Do we have any light bulbs?
John: I don’t know.
[Long silence.]
Agatha: Didn’t you buy some last week?
John: Yeah, but I don’t know if we used them all.
[Silence.]
Agatha: Will you check?
John: Okay. … Yeah, we’ve got one in the hall closet.
[El Silencio.]
Agatha: Have you noticed the hall light is out?
John: Yeah, I saw that on the way in. (Continues playing Temple Run.)

By this point, Agatha thinks John is deliberately avoiding helping her, and she’s getting pretty ticked off. Meanwhile, John is oblivious to Agatha’s hinting, and trying to figure out why she’s so obsessed with light bulbs all of a sudden.

lightbulb

It’s harder to bridge the divide than you might think. My husband’s solution? Say what you mean. But to a woman, that can sound incredibly rude. For a woman who’s used to dropping and picking up hints, it sounds incredibly tactless to walk into a room and say, “I’m hungry, and I don’t feel good. I want you to make me some soup and a piece of toast.” But just saying, “I’m hungry. I don’t feel good,” doesn’t get the point across for a guy. For a girl, it would be enough – girls are used to asking the follow-up questions. “Oh, I’m sorry. Can I get you anything? Do you want me to make you some food?” For a guy, though, it just sounds like a random statement. “I’m hungry, too.  My hair is black. Yesterday, there was frost on the pumpkins. This is a weird conversation you’re starting here.” So the problem is, when women talk, they expect a man to read their minds. This doesn’t sound unreasonable to a woman, because women already consider what the other person means to say way more than what they actually say. Which is why there are times when a man mentions, “I’m having a hard time sleeping,” and three days later the woman comes home with some lavender essential oil to help him sleep. Her thought: you wanted a sleep aid. His thought: I don’t remember saying anything about alternative healing ever before in my life. What are you talking about?

Ethan and I are still working on this one. We’ve reached the general agreement that if I want something specific, and he’s not getting the hint, I’ll be tactless. If he’s saying something that might contain a hint, I’ll ask him whether he’s hinting at something, or just stating the facts. I’ll ask him before I go out and buy essential oils for him. He’ll ask me why I care so much about light bulbs all of a sudden. And generally speaking, we’ll both ask a few more questions to make sure we’re on the same page. We’re learning. Slowly, but we’re learning. ♥

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2 thoughts on “Can You Repeat the Question, Please?

  1. Yep, you got that right. I’ve learned that when Naomi says, “Do we have any light bulbs?”
    My reply should be, “I don’t know. They would be in the hall closet. While you’re looking would you change the one in the hall. It’s been out for days. I changed the last two. Its your turn.”

    She now says, “Ray would you change the hall light? It is out.”

  2. haha maybe it is a good thing that I am considered tactless for a woman a? Might make my marriage easier. Though I still drop a lot of hints.

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